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October 30, 2008 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-10-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I

World

PRESIDENTIAL PROFILE

Obama from page A27

And his clear declaration of support for
Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital
at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in
May was followed up by poorly conceived
clarifications to the Palestinians, then to
the pro-Israel community, then to anyone
who was still bothering to ask.
The most effective Republican tack has
been his status as a blank slate: Obama is
47 and has barely four years of experience
on the national stage.

Special Cultivation
What has smoothed these concerns has
been a strategy of systematically cultivat-
ing the Jewish community since his first
run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness
to scions of Chicago's most influential
Jewish families — including the Pritzkers
and the Crowns — propelled a state-by-
state outreach that strategically targeted
similar dynasties.
For instance, the campaign's Jewish out-
reach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came
on board after a meeting between the
candidate and his father, Ron, a leading
Cleveland developer. The campaign has
set up Jewish leadership councils in major
communities and hired Jewish outreach

The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken
thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious
traditions as well as the early influence of Jewish
and Zionist writers on his worldview.

directors in at least six swing states.
Obama used the same strategic out-
reach in building his policy apparatus. The
foreign policy team making the case for
an Obama administration that engages in
intense Middle East diplomacy features
several accomplished Jewish members.
In addition to Wexler, Obama's circle
of advisers on Israel and Iran policy
includes familiar veterans of the Clinton
administration such as Dennis Ross, once
America's top Middle East negotiator; Dan
Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the
legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson,
D-Fla.; and Mara Rudman, a former
national security councilor.
Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-
or-break figure among Florida's Jews,
before announcing for president, and
since 2005 has been consulting with Ross

— the most reputable name among Jews
in Middle East peacemaking.
"His vision of direct American engage-
ment" with leaders in Tehran "for the pur-
pose of stopping Iran's nuclear program
was so compelling I wanted to be a part
of it," Wexler told JTA. "Direct American
engagement" with Iran was once incon-
ceivable as a pro-Israel position.

More On Iran
in part to a concerted effort by
Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it
has gone mainstream, most recently in a
bill co-authored by the Democratic nomi-
nee that promoted tightened anti-Iran
sanctions as well as the utility of engage-
ment. The bill, backed by the AIPAC,
passed overwhelmingly in the House of
Representatives but was killed by Senate

Due

Republicans without explanation.
The bill is just one example of how
Obama has offered detailed policy pro-
posals that have meshed his emphasis on
diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of
Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially
when it comes to Iran.
By the time Obama or his surrogates
have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan
that includes targeting refined petroleum
exporters to Iran, the insurance indus-
try and Iranian banks, listeners at some
forums almost appear to have forgotten
about Obama's one-time pledge to meet
with Ahmadinejad. It doesn't hurt that the
McCain campaign is short on such specif-
ics.
In a trip to Israel over the summer,
Obama impressed his interlocutors by
internalizing their concerns over Iran and
immediately integrating them into his
own vision for the region, Ross said in an
interview.
"He told the Israelis during the trip that
`Iran with nuclear weapons was not only
an existential threat to Israel, and I view it
that way, but I also would view it as trans-
forming the Middle East into a nuclear
region, undermining everything I'd hope
to accomplish:" said Ross, who accompa-

McCain from page A27

primary in Florida. "That's why we need a
president who is ready to be commander-
in-chief from day one, a president who
won't need any on-the-job training. John
McCain is that candidate and will be that
president:'
It was one of the first of many appear-
ances that Lieberman would make in the
Sunshine State and in front of Jewish audi-
ences on behalf of McCain.
But Lieberman has emerged as more
than a surrogate. The Connecticut senator
is a trusted adviser and has become a reg-
ular travel buddy joining McCain on many
of his campaign trips as well as his visit in
late May to Iraq, Jordan and Israel.
It was Lieberman who quietly pulled
McCain to the side during a news confer-
ence in Jordan, prompting the candidate
to correct his mistaken assertion that Iran
was training members of Al Qaida. And it
was Lieberman who was dispatched by the
McCain campaign to brief reporters after
Obama and McCain both delivered solidly
pro-Israel speeches at the AIPAC policy
conference in June.
Soon after, in the weeks leading up to
the Republican convention, speculation
was rampant that McCain wanted to tap
Lieberman as his running mate — a
move that some observers say would have

A28

October 30 • 2008

iN

McCain received a boost from his reputation
for bipartisanship and bucking religious
conservatives, his long record of support for
Israel, tough talk on Iran.

coincided with a drop in the polls for
McCain, both in the general electorate
and among Jewish voters. New polling
data from Gallup released Oct. 23 shows
Obama winning 74 percent of the Jewish
vote. Of course, even more alarming for
the McCain camp is the overwhelming
majority of surveys showing him trailing
nationally and on the state-by-state map.

helped the Republican nominee with
many Jewish undecideds. But according to
some reports, warnings from prominent
Republican strategists that the selection
of a pro-choice quasi-Democrat would
trigger a conservative revolt ultimately led
McCain to settle on the surprise choice of
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
(Lieberman is said to remain on the
short list for either secretary of state or
secretary of defense in a McCain admin-
istration.)

Beyond Election Day
And if a significant defeat were not
enough, McCain's critics appear ready to
carry on the fight beyond Election Day.
"Back in 2000, after John McCain lost
his mostly honorable campaign for the
Republican presidential nomination, he
went about apologizing to journalists
— including me — for his most obvi-
ous misstep: his support for keeping the
Confederate flag on the state house" in
South Carolina, Time magazine columnist
Joe Klein recalled in a recent blog post
titled "Apology Not Accepted."
"I just can't wait for the moment when
John McCain — contrite and suddenly
honorable again in victory or defeat — talks
about how things got a little out of control in
the passion of the moment," he added. "Talk
about putting lipstick on a pig."
This view is the overwhelming verdict

The Palm File
From the start, the McCain camp appeared
bent on underscoring Palm's pro-Israel
bona fides. Her first meeting at the con-
vention was a closed-door session with
leaders of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee. The Republican Jewish
Coalition circulated a video clip showing

a small Israeli flag displayed in her office
in Alaska.
Palin herself took up the task of speak-
ing out against Iran and defending Israel's
right to defend itself. Like McCain, she
did so while also voicing support for a
two-state solution, saying during the vice-
presidential debate that it would be a "top
priority"
Ultimately, however, it appears that
attempts to paint her as unqualified
and a product of the religious right have
been successful. A survey conducted
by the American Jewish Committee in
early September found that 54 percent of
American Jews disapproved of the Palin
choice, compared to just 15 percent who
felt that way about Obama's selection of
U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.
Increasing unhappiness with Palin,
along with the economic crisis, has

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